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ART. III.- La Storia dei Musulmani di Sicilia. Scritta da
MICHELE AMARI. Vols. I. and II. Firenze: 1858. Tas history of Mussulman dominion in Sicily must un
doubtedly rank as the most remarkable historical work in the Italian literature of our own time. Treating a virgin subject of very comprehensive range with great knowledge and acute criticism, it is a book of sterling merit, worthy of the reputation which the author, by birth a Sicilian, established for himself by his first work, a History of the Sicilian Vespers,' that has been translated into German, French, and English. Merits that elsewhere won esteem, secured for him at home persecution at the hands of a restlessly suspicious government, which with sensitive consciousness construed his vivid narrative of an oppressive tyranny into a diatribe against itself. With exile therefore as his reward—the indomitable energy of his independent spirit and his excellent talents for his whole fortune-M. Amari came to Paris in the prime of life. There, almost the first publication that met his eye was an Arabic text fresh from the press, having reference to the history of his native island. Such was the irritation he felt at not being able to read it, that it impelled him to apply himself to master the language. The resolution thus taken at a spur he followed up with an unfaltering energy, which has won him a confessedly leading place amongst Arabic scholars of Italy. The conception of this particular history floated before his mind as the capital prize of his labours, and encouraged his enduring exertians with the stimulant of a patriotic purpose. The ordinary difficulties attending Arabic scholarship were, however, far from filling up the measure of what M. Amari had to over
The task he had set himself imposed the duty of not merely learning a perplexing tongue and of writing a bulky history, but also of discovering and bringing together by immense research the primary materials for its possible construction - materials which were scattered through manuscripts of obscure existence, and often hidden in the night of forgotten libraries. Without any of those aids which lighten inquiry, his sturdy resolution and critical keenness achieved an undertaking that might have been deemed sufficient to engage the attention of a learned body. During twelve years he ransacked the libraries of all countries for the records which his acuteness enabled him to trace, and thus acquired the amount of matter which he is embodying in a book that throws new and striking lights upon the very essence of Mahometan societies. With this rare erudition in Arabic writings M. Amari combines a thorough knowledge of Byzantine and early Italian chroniclers. He keenly darts on a hint, whether lurking amidst the trashy biographies of Byzantine saints, or the mysteries of an Arabic text; and as his sober sense resists the seductions of fanciful ingenuity, he offers in an eminent degree that wholesome union of knowledge and instinct which constitutes the true historian.
The conquest of Sicily was the last acquisition in date of the great westward tide of Arab irruption under the impulse of Mahometan fanaticism ; for the single waves afterwards still thrown forwards by the devastating flood into remoter parts of Europe, were merely straggling billows, that rolled back as fast as they had run in, without making anywhere a lasting encroachment. Sicily, therefore, is the landmark of the limits attained by the force of Mahomet's impulse, and the history of its Mussulman period reflects consequently in their perfection all the elements which entered into the constitution of Mahometan society and progress within its primitive and Arabian stage. Accordingly, M. Amari has seen fit to precede his narrative of the actual conquest by a sketch of the nature and rise of the conquering force, which is rich in new and profound observation. His scholarship, going hand in hand with a philosophical instinct, has enabled him to recover a thread that can
a clue through the mazes of Eastern revolutions, making what hitherto wore the dreary look of wayward recklessness assume the features of settled and eventful antagonism.
The Shemitic population of Arabia falls into two divisions that date from a point of time beyond historical record. The one claiming, and it is generally believed with truth, to be the elder is the tribe of Khattan, by genealogists identified with the Joktan of the Bible. The second is the tribe of Adnan, sprung from Ishmael, an invader and intruder upon the birthright of the other. When the light of history dawns on tradition, we find the tribe of Khattan confined to Arabia Felix and Yemen, while the hardy and intractable children of Ishmael roamed with their herds in nomadic freedom throughout the wide extent of the great Arabian deserts. Thus at the very earliest period within our cognisance, the two branches of the Arabian family were already set against each other in an opposition based on the most lasting passions of human nature; on the one hand, an irrepressible disposition towards lawless rapacity without regard for a neighbour's right; on the other, a rankling resentment at the spoliation of a birthright. The ill feeling thus early begotten was never quenched; it runs through
the whole cycle of Arabian history, breaking out with unabated vehemence on all occasions of contact between the two kindred tribes - be it in the desultory collisions of their primitive life, or under the levelling discipline of Mahomet's new law. Yet on investigation, we can catch but one feature of distinction in the otherwise uniform character of these two members of the great Shemitic family. The men of Khattan were more disposed than their brethren to arts of civilisation. It was not a mere accident which had made them withdraw into Arabia Felix and Yemen. These were the districts of Arabia best adapted to their more especial predispositions, affording sites for towns, a soil that rewarded the toil of the husbandman, and products that could whet the speculative instincts of the merchant. In these men of Khattan, dwellers in towns who worked and dealt in their country's wealth, the refinement of Arabian society was concentrated. With venturesome spirit they plied in frail barks the Eastern seas, and bartering their native spices against the varied articles of rich price to be found in the markets of Rome, Byzantium, and India, they garnished the simple homesteads of their birth with costly products of foreign luxury - trophies of their intelligent enterprise. These also were the men who established two realms of renown -one in Mesopotamia on the confines of Persia, the kingdom of Hira— the other more generally celebrated through its Queen Zenobia, the kingdom of Palmyra, the ruins of whose monuments are still the object of curious pilgrimage.
Very different were the doings of the men of Adnan. Quickwitted, fiery, and utterly impatient of discipline, these wild and impetuous men exactly reflected that conformation of condition where man found himself free to roam where he listed, subject to the constraint of no higher jurisdiction than of such brute strength as might happily prove superior to his own. Restless with passions, wayward like the shifting sands of their native haunts, their nature yet defied all progressive influence, just as their deserts preserved their immemorial monotony through all the convulsions of perpetual storms. What they were the first day that they remained to the last; men possessed of striking and choice qualities that can constitute virtues in the individual, but so disposed as to be quite unsusceptible of social progress. With flocks, dromedaries, steeds, and weapons for their whole property—a camel's skin for a tent, and camel's haircloth for raiment, with the endless waste of the desert for a home, and with none but man's intuitive reverence for his parent, and none but man's indelible affection for his offspring, the children of Ishmael followed their propensities as rovers, broken up into as many communities as there were families; each clustered about its own patriarch, and crossing at all moments with reckless hostility each other's path — men whose hands were truly turned against every one, and every one's hand against them. It is true that a few Adnanite families
amongst them the illustrious one of Hashem-are found in fixed settlements. This exception was, however, so very rare and partial, that the division into its two tribes may fairly be considered as severing the Shemitic population of Arabia into townsmen and roversthe only distinction to be detected in its simple and uniform mould.
For the Arab dwelling within walls as for the Arab roaming through the desert, there existed but one form of political constitution, the narrow bond of family in the most stringent sense of the term. This close and unexpansive body comprised the whole essence of Arabian society in all its gradations, which are described with admirable clearness by the author, and deserve especial attention as the ground whereon and the stuff wherewith Mahomet reared his structure.
• The nomadic tribe called Bedouin, which in Arabic signifies “ dwellers in the wide," is a tight political body, with no other bond than that of blood, and no other restraint than shame and dread of another's rapacity. The unity constituting society does not rest here in the individual, but in the family, and true authority dwells only in its head. He has absolute command over his children, and their offspring - over slaves, whether taken or bought-over freed men still abiding in a dependence. ... He provides for their sustenance, defends them against aggression, and, when they commit such acts, he makes good the wrong done, or encounters himself vengeance. The amount and zeal of his followers constitute the force of the chief their services, chattels, and flocks his wealth ; nor is there any want of laws, to keep together a body of this kind. Beyond the family begin the associations, which, though quite voluntary, still follow the order of kinship. Several families form what the Arabs, from their habit of pitching their tents in a round, call a circle, over which a sheikh or elder is set, who is rather pointed out for the office by his personal repute or his family's importance, than chosen by a vote; so that it often becomes hereditary for some generations. He is the emblem of the head of the kindred - a magistrate, with no power over individuals, and with no authority over the ordinary affairs of the circle, in which he has to follow the vote of the fathers of families. Lastly, to use a modern phrase, the sheikh represents his circle in the tribe, which unites various branches of the same line, and is itself disposed, like the circle, under the direction of a chief, acquiring his position partly by consent, partly of necessity, who governs the general matters of the tribe, as a change of encampment, the making war and treaties; but always with the assent of the sheikhs, and also, possibly, of other powerful heads of families. ... Such is the hierarchy, at once political and military. Civil ordinances, deserving the name, are not in existence. When family influence proves not sufficient, force preserves property; and force failing, then pelf becomes a rightful acquisition. For personal protection, the pledge is somewhat more effective, as the circle and tribe are in honour bound thereto, and readily take up arms to avenge blood, or from their means contribute towards paying the price of such as has been shed by one of their body.' (Vol. i. p. 34.)
A society so strictly confined in its organisation to the narrowed family bond, constituted an even intenser system of rivalry than prevailed in Celtic clanship, which extended at all events an equal community over all who came, however remotely, within one pedigree. Of the countless petty divisions into which the Arabian world was thus broken, the tribe of Koreish claimed particular eminence in virtue of its lordship over Mecca. That town was endowed with holiness in the eyes of all Arabs, and thus enjoyed as much of the character of a metropolis as was compatible with the rude notions of so primitive a people. Mahomet was born therefore at the very pinnacle of Arabian society, for besides being a townsman of Mecca and a Koreish, he was moreover the heir apparent in that family of Hashem which, from being the guardian of the national shrine, had the chief rank in the tribe, and affected to be the most illustrious blood in the country. By the representative, therefore, of Arab aristocracy in its choicest perfection, the bolt was launched that aimed at the overthrow of its cherished distinctions. This was not, however, the act of Mahomet's deliberate intention, but rather the result of his kin having rejected a scheme which, in the first instance, he had brought forward for direct purposes of family ambition in the true spirit of Arab tradition and feelings. The holy privileges enjoyed by the Koreish were mainly held on no higher tenure than the kind of sufferance customary to Arab polity. The Koreish had laid aside in their walled settlements none of the purely personal susceptibilities which had exclusively seized them while roving about in the desert. Such ordinances as prevailed in Mecca above what was to be found in every Arab encampment, were merely the instinctive expressions of that simple necessity which even the rudest and most lawless population become alive to as soon as they are thrown together within the confined compass of a town. The free recklessness that may be indulged in a state of society removed from neighbours, must at once put on itself some restraint in self-defence when its continued indulgence becomes a permanent cause for murderous collisions. The Koreish in Mecca did therefore no more than tacitly to fall into a simple government offering but the